17 Half Moon Street,
London W1J 7BE
Tel. 0207 499 4208
Food type: Japanese
Food rating: 3/10
Nearest tube: Green Park
As J wanted to dine at a Japanese restaurant (and I have thus far not been convinced with Japanese restaurants in London) I began scouring the internet and the forums of eGullet for a suitable place. I wanted to avoid Michelin places like Umu and Nobu because of their price while Roka was overbooked. Anyways, after much clicking of my mouse I chanced upon a random post with pictures of food at Kiku. It didn’t look too bad so I thought ‘what the heck’.
Estabished in 1978, Kiku is a branch of the Mikuniya Onsen (hot spring) Inn in Kinosaki, Hyogo. The dining room is simplistic, traditional and minimalistic – the classical Japanese theme of wood is rife throughout with wooden tables, chairs, blinds and partition alongside faux bamboo. The stone black floors and cream coloured walls provided a monochromatic backdrop. Tables are well spaced apart.
The dinner menu offers up Japanese inspired fair with a modern twist along with the classics. You will fine the usual suspects like tempura, chawan mushi and yakitori alongside more obscure delicacies such as Tumiki Natto (fermented soy bean with quail egg yolk) and Ume Zousui (pickled plum porridge). Unsurprising then that many of the patrons dining here are Japanese businessmen. Tasting menus in the form of Kyoto style Kaiseki dinner courses are available ranging from £46 to £65. The idea of a Kaiseki dinner course is a multi-course dinner where diners can enjoy different tastes, textures, appearances and colours of their food. Set lunch ranges between £16 and £29. We opted for the ‘Edo Dinner’ tasting menu at £65.
Beansprouts, Choi Sum, Konbu broth
A small nibble was brought to us after we had placed our orders – an amuse bouche of sorts. This was a very refreshing cold dish consisting of bean sprouts and choi sum in a light konbu broth finished with a few sesame seeds. The vegetables had good flavour and the choi sum in particular avoided the bitterness which is often associated with the vegetable when they are harvested too early. I must point out that the bean sprouts in this appetiser were not properly tailed (ie having the brown bit taken off) which is very lazy on their part. (3/10)
Marinated Sake, Seaweed
Our first course proper was a few cubes of deep fried salmon which was marinated in a lemon infused broth with some fresh seaweed on the side. While the dish tasted fine, I completely fail to grasp the concept of frying a fish and then serving it cold and soggy, soaked in a broth. (1/10)
Clams, Ginger & Spring Onion; Ballotine of Chicken; Spinach, Goji Berry, Walnut Paste; Pickled Daikon; Quail Egg; Pickled Lotus Root; Cured Duck Breast, Mustard
Next up was a course termed ‘seasonal appetiser’. I however cannot grasp what is seasonable in the mish-mash array of little dishes. Ballotine of chicken was cold, dry and bland which pretty much sums up chicken in a sentence while spinach and walnut paste tastes exactly as it sounds. Cured duck breast with a dab of mustard was drab – the duck lifeless and doing its best to impersonate a piece of cardboard. A little quail egg, coloured yellow for no other purpose than to look yellow was as exciting as, well, eating a hard boiled quails egg. Pickled lotus root had good texture but did not necessarily set my world alight. This was salvaged some what by a some very nice clams cooked with ginger and spring onions, a dish that reminded me of my childhood. The clams were correctly cooked with its sweetness coming through. (1/10)
The Japanese, like most of the countries in the orient, take their soup drinking seriously. Dobin Mushi, a clear seafood broth, served in a little teapot (called a dobin pot) and drunk like you would Chinese tea, was clear, light and refreshing with a gentle squeeze of lemon juice to give the broth that small piquant sharpness. The balance here was spot on. (4/10)
A side order of sashimi (£35.00) featuring the best fish of the day selected by the chef had very high quality fish including the prized otoro (the best part of the tuna belly). I do feel that some of the fish was sliced too thinly (in particular the scallops) – in Japanese culture, the thickness that one cuts their fish represents the generosity of the host. As such the fish should be of a sensible thickness so you can fully appreciate its flavour and texture. (6/10) [Please note: they only serve blue fin tuna here, which make not be to the liking of some people who are conscious about marine preservation]
Miso Black Cod, Pickled Turnip
Miso black cod, a dish made famous by Nobu, was served here with a little pickled turnip. The fish itself was cooked and served on the bone although it was fractionally overcooked. The addition of the pickled turnip was ingenious as it provided a touch of acidity to offset the oiliness of the black cod. (3/10)
Prawn Casserole, Haricot Vert, Lotus Root
A casserole dish of prawns, green beans and lotus root cooked in some clear seafood broth was the least successful dish – the prawns were severely overcooked, tough and rubbery. This is surprising given that the beans themselves were timed perfectly. (1/10)
The obligatory tempura course was well executed – the batter light, airy and crisp served with an excellent accompanied by a tentsuyu dipping sauce which was served (correctly) warm. Prawns were annoyingly overcooked yet again although other aspects of the tempura platter were fine. (2/10)
Beef teriyaki featured annoyingly chewy, tough beef despite being cooked rare. The beef itself had good flavour with a very good teriyaki sauce and a few shimeji mushrooms and bean sprouts accompanying it. This time around, the bean sprouts were properly tailed… (1/10)
Sushi: Negitoro, Ebi, Sake, Tamago, Maguro, Hamachi
Sushi was highly enjoyable and probably the best part of the meal. The sushi rice was at the right temperature and having the right consistency and density. Fish was generously draped over the rice . Even the humble Tamago (sweet egg omelette) which is a personal favourite, and notoriously hard to get right, was handled very well with the egg as light as a feather. (6/10) [Side note: Edo-style sushi or Edo-mae-zushi is in essence nigiri sushi] Miso soup accompanying this was again very good, made from proper miso paste as opposed to the powdered sachets that many restaurants resort to.
Disappointingly enough, our Kaiseki menu finished with some fresh fruit which is hardly exciting, even if it is pretty common in Japan to do so. Lifeless strawberries and sour pineapples are hardly seasonal either. Coffee (included with the tasting menu) was awful. (0/10)
Tempura Ice Cream
Putting the disappointment of the fruits aside, we opted for additional desserts. A tempura ice cream was served with some pretty anaemic strawberry coulis on the side and more slices of the aforementioned lifeless strawberries. The ice cream itself was clearly bought in. (1/10)
Green Tea Ice Cream
Green tea ice cream was at least enjoyable, if unexciting. The ice cream had good texture and good tea flavour. (2/10)
Service was passable although the Japanese speaking staff did not speak much English and were not of much help when trying to explain what each course was. Thankfully, one of our servers, an asian man who spoke fluent Japanese as well as English guided us through each course as best as he could.
The food was passable but there was not a single memorable dish. Sushi and sashimi were of high quality, but so they should be especially at the prices they were charging. Which brings me to the issue of their pricing. Simply put, for the amount they were charging, I could have just as easily tried the tasting menu at Umu/Roka or eaten at a fraction of the price at Chisou. In short, a very underwhelming experience.